Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Sixth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

I sincerely hate to keep bugging you guys, but I just had to bring a new development (get it?) to your attention. Actually, I’m not even sure I am bugging you with these letters, or with the bad photo developing jokes, especially since you probably don’t develop film anymore, since everything is digital now, which would explain why it’s apparently economically feasible for you to send me reams and reams of pictures every spring that I never ordered in the first place of all three of my boys in T-shirts with uncombed hair and food stuck to their faces because we didn’t care that it was picture day again, because we already got our fall pictures like only three months before... where was I?

Oh, yeah... I’m not even sure I am bugging you with these letters, since I never hear anything back from you, but as I have stated in the past, I am a selfless humanitarian – I do it for the good of all mankind. You’re welcome.

Actually, I have to take that back. I did sort of hear back from you once. I got an email from one of your young photographers a while back, responding to one of these letters. It was adorable how she tried to explain to me why I was legally required to return pictures you sent me that I never ordered, of my children that I never asked you (or even authorized you) to photograph.

I never told you her name, since her total lack of understanding of what “legally required” means gave me the distinct impression she didn’t have the authority to speak on the company’s behalf. She seemed like a nice kid and I didn’t want her to get in trouble with you management types, if in fact you do exist.

A few weeks ago I thought I was “hearing from you” in an odd passive-aggressive move when Son Number Two’s fall picture packet didn’t show up with the rest of them. His pictures were the only ones in his class to be missing, and for a moment I thought that might be too much of a coincidence given our history.

I jumped to the conclusion that you were being petty and you didn’t really appreciate all the free business advice I’ve so graciously given you all these years. I’m sorry that thought even entered my mind. His pictures had simply been misplaced, and they showed up about a week later. It was not your fault and I feel bad for even entertaining the thought that you would be anything less than professional.

Anyway, back to the current matter at hand. As you folks obviously know, picture retake day is today at my sons’ school. Sorry about writing you with this problem so late, but I just connected the dots and figured you guys probably hadn’t done so, so better late than never.

Your picture retake day poster in the front office window advertises that today is the day students can “get a second chance at a picture-perfect image.”

That might be difficult.

As you are obviously not aware, this is “Red Ribbon Week” at the school. Each day of the week we are fighting the scourge of drugs and promoting healthy lifestyle choices in a fun and positive learning environment. In other words, the kids are dressing up with a different theme each day.

Wear all red, wear team jerseys, wear patriotic clothes, etc...

Anyway, long story short, you scheduled picture retakes on pajama day.

Like I have told you, I’m a selfless humanitarian. I’m bringing this to your attention purely out of support for your company, and not for any personal reasons. This issue doesn’t affect me at all. That’s because miraculously, for the first time since all three of our boys have been in school, we don’t need retakes.

As you know, Son Number Two has always been our solid producer. He’s good in front of the camera. The other two are spotty at best.

Son Number Three is allergic to napkins. He’s spent approximately nine total minutes of his seven-year life thus far without food stuck to his face, and up to this point, none of those nine minutes lined up with picture day.

And obviously, Son Number One has Chronic Forced Smile Disorder, or CFSD, which has plagued him his whole life. Tell him a joke and he beams like a golden ray of sunshine. Try to take his picture and he smiles like he was just stabbed in the foot with a screwdriver.

But this year, somehow, the camera gods smiled down upon us, the heavens aligned, and when the shutter snapped, you produced three pictures of normal smiling, foodless versions of the boys we know and love.

However, for all the folks that needed retakes today, I’m guessing that if little Aiden’s picture showed him with a mustard stain on his shirt, the fix his parents were looking for was not to replace it with a picture of little Aiden in his Lightning McQueen jammies.

I know in the past I’ve given you amazing and free advice on how to improve your business model, but in this case I’ve got nothing for you. Nothing other than a few words of encouragement about looking on the bright side:

At least you didn’t schedule pictures on Friday. That’s Halloween costume day.

Best of luck,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Shear Pain

Have you ever seen someone shear a sheep? They tip them over and sit them up on their rump so their legs aren’t on the ground. That way the sheep is less annoying while you’re removing its wool. I’m not that smart. I shear all my livestock while they’re standing up, and they’re incredibly annoying about it.

Of course, even if I put them back on their rumps, they’d be just as annoying, because mine can talk. Ever since we first started shearing them, our three boys have taken haircuts to be a personal attack on everything in their lives that is good. They whine and complain as if their whole sense of happiness and contentment is connected to their hair.

We had always buzzed them short, but about a year ago we gave in. In this life you must pick your battles, and my wife and I use up a vast majority of our will to live every day just with homework and dinner time.

So now they all have long hair. By “long,” I of course mean one inch. That’s as long as it’s going to get. There will be no man buns around these parts, Fabio. I’m even seeing dudes at the gym wearing head bands in their hair. Not sweat bands, but skinny elastic hair bands to make the front of their hair stand up. Sorry, boys, but if you ever decide you need to use one of your mom’s stretchy hair bands to manage your flowing locks, it’s all coming off with a razor.

One inch-long hair allows sculpting of the fauxhawk, which was the impetus behind all the whining about wanting longer hair. “What’s a fauxhawk?” you might ask, as I did, if you are as tragically unhip as me. A fauxhawk is basically a short Mohawk but without the shaved sides. You just stick the middle of your hair up in the air with gel, as if you’re a surprised cartoon character.

I was against this hairstyle from the beginning, and I remain against it a year later. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really care what my son’s hair looks like on any given day, as long as it’s not long. I’m against the fauxhawk because it requires gel.

But we gave in, and now we own Gorilla Snot. That’s the name of the hair gel. We have fauxhawks held up with Gorilla Snot. I wish I was making that up.

Gorilla Snot has a holding power somewhere in between asphalt sealant and Krazy Glue. Between the hair gel and the toothpaste residue left over after they get ready for school, you could trap and hold an adult male grizzly bear just by luring him onto our boys’ bathroom counter.

Besides the fact that I’ve actually glued my shorts to the sink, I’m also against the new long hair because of the haircuts. The whining and complaining remains the same from the boys, but the actual cutting of the hair is more difficult. I’m fighting my way through more hair now, which is no small task with Son Number One. His hair is so thick it’s actually like shearing a sheep. We go through clippers at an alarming rate. I would buy some real sheep shearing clippers, but those things are deadly serious. I don’t want to actually be able to cut an ear off.

A while back, I nicked an ear with our standard clippers on the third haircut. There was so much hair already in the sink, when we combined some blood it looked like we’d murdered a family of chinchillas.

Plus, it’s a lot tougher to see what I’m doing with the long hair. All three boys have a knob on the back of their heads that really doesn’t like to be pushed on by clippers. I can’t see where it is, so I get a lot of complaints about my style, mostly focusing on how much better mom is at cutting hair, and how I push too hard. I tried to buy louder clippers, but they don’t sell them.

It takes weeks of mental preparation and often a few stiff drinks to get through haircut day. And that’s just for the boys. Plus, after it’s over, there is no immediate sense of relief for any of us, because we still have to get through round two after the mom critique phase. “You missed some long hairs on top here,” or, “You forgot the whole left side of his head.”

Sorry honey, but do you have any idea how much they complain during the haircut? Sometimes I just need to be done.

I guess I could spend the money and take them to the barber shop, but that just seems cruel. I mean, what did that barber ever do to me?

I think I might just get some sheep. They’d probably be less of a hassle to shear, and I could sell the wool. Plus sheep probably don’t hold a grudge for so long when you nick their ears.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

You Can't Spell Doughnuts with an E

I am here today to help set your mind at ease about our elementary school educational system. The kids are going to be fine.

I know there has been a lot of concern lately about Common Core, mostly centered around the fact that we parents no longer understand the new math, so we can no longer help our children with their homework. I personally fail to see why me getting out of homework time is a bad thing, but to each their own.

I will admit, however, I heard some disturbing things at Back to School Night. Four instants, I herd that hour children our know longer re choired two take spelling tests, cents they will all ways have spell Czech. That’s probably knot a grate idea, cents their our know red lines under any words in this pair a graph, butt its chalk full of miss steaks, May king IT con fusing and hard too reed.

I was also told that the new math program doesn’t focus so much on getting the right answer these days, but more on the students’ ability to collaborate in a group. I find that utterly offensive. Why are my children being offered this insanely awesome math utopia and I was not? I would have loved that system!

I used to collaborate all the time with my fellow students during math, but my teachers always called it “cheating.” Now students are being asked to talk to each other, and graded on how well they do it? Come on! That’s just salt into my report card wounds. I could’ve had straight A’s with this new system.

We had to slave away at our desks by ourselves with no Google at our fingertips to help us solve for X. Now the kids can just pull out a phone, fire up the math solver app, take a picture of the problem, and email the answer to the teacher. Then, as long as they all cheerfully agree on which math solver app is the best, and someone in the group can articulate a half-coherent reason for wanting to know what X was in the first place, (or at least what an X looks like, lol), they all get an A in math.

Actually, they all get a B or a T in math. Apparently, traditional letter grades are really only useful when you want to know if a student knows the right answers. A, B, C, D, and F have been abandoned in favor of E, S, N and T, B, L.

When you get rid of the standard letter grades, it also apparently makes sense to get rid of report cards, too. We’ll now just get “progress reports” rating our child’s development of the “characteristics of a successful learner” with either an E (excellent), an S (satisfactory), or an N (needs improvement).

As far as the individual subjects go, they’ll be rated with T, B, or L. The T stands for “progressing Toward meeting standard expectations in the reportable area.” The B definition, on the other hand, also has the word “toward” in it, but means “progressing toward Basic understanding in the reportable area.” That made me wonder why the T wasn’t an S, until I remembered that S means my child has developed “satisfactory characteristics of a successful learner.” Maybe the T should be an M? Who knows? Anyway, the L stands for “demonstrating Limited progress toward basic understanding and proficiency in the reportable area.” I personally think the L should just be replaced with a thumbs down emoticon, but they didn’t ask my opinion.

I don’t have the energy to begin to pretend like I understand any of it, but I do see one glaringly obvious problem with the new grade reporting system right off the bat – doughnuts.

Krispy Kreme used to give me one doughnut for every A on my kids’ report cards. Sometimes I would even let the kids have one of them. And I don’t like to brag, but between their mom’s brains and my height, they’re all pretty smart. Up until now, I would get A LOT of doughnuts at report card time.

But this new system has the potential to completely derail my gravy train of delicious glazed goodness. How the hell am I supposed to get free doughnuts with a “progress report” full of T’s?

Is all of this concerning? Of course. Has anything I’ve shared with you put you at ease? Of course not. The doughnut issue alone should have you feeling sick to your stomach - much like the day after report card doughnut day.

But don’t despair! The news from the classroom may be bleak, but there is still hope. The news from the playground is an entirely different story. The news from the playground will lift your spirits and set your mind at ease. The kids are going to be all right. How do I know? Four Square. That’s how.

Son Number One came home the other day and started telling me about playing Four Square. Like math, I foolishly thought I already knew all about it, but then he then started speaking another language, so I slowed him down and had him explain the new Four Square to me.

Back in my day, Four Square was just a game with four players in four squares and a bouncy ball that could only bounce in your square once before you were required to catch it. If it bounced twice, you were out. Like ABC or 123, plain and simple.

Four Square today is an entirely different animal. I had my son explain all the different rules to me. After a half-hour of nonstop machine gun-like information, I had to stop him, because my head was spinning.

The four squares are now named. They are King, Queen, Servant, and Jail. The king always starts with the ball. There is still what’s known as “regular” rules, where the one bounce applies. However, now there are approximately a thousand variants.

Tennis; Around the World, the more confusing, Reverse Around the World, and the incredibly difficult variant, Around the World Headers; Pac Man; Bus Stop; Back Stop; Edges, which may or may not be the same thing as Bus Stop; Apple Cider, and the more difficult Apple Cider variant, Poisonous Spider; Story Time; Watermelon; Out of the Box; Glass Ball; Cherry Bomb; Ghost in the Halls, and the confusing variant, Ghost in the Halls Touch Up; and the list just kept going, each with an intricate set of rules and regulations, many of which didn’t even involve the ball.

It was mind boggling. When I was his age we could all barely agree on the rules for a simple game of Red Rover. These kids are way more inventive than we were, and way smarter, too. They may or May knot no how to spell, but they’re going to be fine.

I’m a pretty decent speller, but I would get an F in Four Square today. Or an N. Or an L. I’m not sure.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to draft a letter to the president of Krispy Kreme explaining the new grading system.

Can someone please explain it to me, first?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cross Country Gap

I have decided that the only way to have any consistency in behavioral outcomes when parenting your children is to have only one child. If you have more than one kid, they’ll be completely different. At least, ours are.

As far as we know, we didn’t do anything differently with our parenting from one kid to the next, so it must be the kids’ relationships with each other that change them. Either that or they’re totally different people with different hopes and dreams, but I fail to see how that could be the case based on how much they look alike.

Whatever the cause, we have three boys who are vastly different on the inside. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at them, though. I don’t like to brag, but they all have huge heads, which they get from me. Consequently, they’re all very smart, which, quite obviously, they get from their mother’s side. Facial features, intelligence, and adult-size bike helmets, however, is where their similarities end. Their differences lie in what motivates them.

Son Number One is motivated by remaining as still as possible while staring at any screen emitting light. One day he will make a fantastic computer programmer, or some other job that involves sitting perfectly still and not being required to spell.

Son Number Two is motivated by competition. He has a multitude of varied interests, centering mostly around total domination of any contest or hobby. It seems blatantly obvious that he will one day become a Navy SEAL.

Son Number Three is motivated by the voices in his head that tell him to scream wildly and run in circles. One day he will make either a good stunt man or a troublesome inmate.

The differences in Son Number One and Two are currently being highlighted every week by the sport of cross country. Much to Son Number One’s dismay, our elementary school does not have a four square league. Long distance running is the only “school sport” there is.

Unfortunately for our school’s overall win record (but fortunately for the coaches) the runners have to be in fourth, fifth, or sixth grade, so our second-grade Tasmanian Devil, Son Number Three, is not eligible yet.

Son Number One was eligible to run on the team last year, but we didn’t even bother mentioning it. This is a boy who, at five years old, told his soccer coach, “It would be great if I could just play goalie, because I don’t really like to run.”

Son Number Two, on the other hand, asked his soccer coach, “I’d like to score as many goals as possible, so can I play forward all game?”

(Son Number Three yelled to his soccer coach, “Wooooohoooo!” as he ran at the speed of light in the wrong direction.)

So, this year when it was time to sign up for cross country, I took Sons One and Two aside individually. I talked to Number One first.

“I’m signing you up for cross country.”
“I don’t want to run.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll have fun,” I lied. I agree with him. Running is never fun.
“No I won’t. It’ll be lame.”
“It’ll be fun,” I lied again. “Besides, your brother is doing it, and you don’t want him to get all the glory, do you?”
“OK, I’ll do it.”

Son Number Two took less convincing.
“I’m signing you and your older brother up for cross country.”
“I’m going to beat him.”
“Glad you’re on board.”

An elementary school cross country meet is an activity where 1500 kids, 20 coaches, and 2500 parents all show up at a park and wonder where the course is, while the one teacher in charge from the hosting school has a nervous breakdown and hides in the play structure.

A typical course is one mile, and is delineated by three traffic cones, one twenty-foot piece of caution tape, and two curved arrows spray-painted on the grass. The start of a race is like a scene out of Braveheart, but with less spears. Then they all get to the first turn and all bets are off. There are still nineteen kids missing from yesterday’s meet who took wrong turns somewhere on the course.

The main problem I am seeing with my sons’ performance at the meets is they are not in the same grade, and the heats are run by grade level. At the first meet, Son Number Two’s goal was to finish in the top twenty to get a medal, and he did. Son Number One’s goal was simply not to finish last. He also accomplished his goal. He finished second to last.

We have been to five meets already and Son Number One’s goal has not waivered. Just don’t be last. I would like him to aim a little higher, and train a little harder, but it’s not going to happen. Son Number Two is racing everyone in his heat. Son Number One could really care less about beating anyone except his younger brother. The physical ability is there. We’re just lacking motivation. Lacking drive.

The only thing that would truly motivate Number One is a format change in the race. If his younger brother was in the same heat, they would finish first and second. There is no doubt in my mind. I have seen them wrestle each other. It’s the only time Son Number One won’t let up.

So we obviously need to combine the fourth and fifth-grade boys. It’ll be a win-win across the board for our school, and for my oldest son’s confidence level. Plus, if we get more kids on the course at once, maybe fewer of them will get lost. I really hope they find at least some of those nineteen kids before the next meet.

I’ll try to suggest the fourth/fifth combo to the hosting team’s lead teacher at the next meet... if I can manage to find her in the play structure.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!